Archive for June 18th, 2015

Four Quick Takeaways from the Pope’s Encyclic on Climate Change

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m not a climate change expert.  However, I am a professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability, so I hear and see a fair amount of the latest research.  I was quite interested in the Papal announcement and am equally interested to see the commentary on it in the coming days.  As editorials are not yet out, I’m interested in a number of topics related to this and look forward to how this will play out in the news and social media.  For those new to the discussion, the Pope announced today that the global citizens need to take steps to protect the world from climate change (see this Reuters news link for early press on it).  He clearly articulates the world as a social-ecological system in which human action impacts the global environment and the state of the environment affects people directly and indirectly.

My Four Quick Takeaways:

  1. It will be curious how the Republicans respond to this.  As of now, only Jeb Bush’s has commented, saying something to the effect that he doesn’t go to church for policy advice.  However, this may be an opportunity that many Republicans have been waiting for – an opportunity to engage with the climate debate with a bit of support from conservative Christian groups.  I’ve always wondered why the climate debate has focused on the science, which has bordered on the ridiculous, when there are plenty of other threads for political debate regarding how to respond.  I’d be delighted to see a shift in the dialogue toward one of when, where, and how to respond rather than argue about whether climate change is reality and whether humans are the cause.  This is a great opportunity.  Let’s not waste it.
  2. The Pope framed this not as a scientific debate (the science is clear) or a political debate but as a moral argument.  He notes that climate change is human-induced and will affect everyone.  However, it will disproportionately affect those already the poorest and most vulnerable.  As people, we have a moral obligation to do something about this. Again, see the post above, this is an opportunity for leaders of people – religious, political, business – to engage in meaningful, ethical ways.
  3. Following from the previous point, making a difference will require individual action.  This may be the area that this announcement has the most importance.  Many of the changes required to effect change require modifying lifestyles – less fossil fuel consumption, eating lower on the food chain, reducing conspicuous (and other) consumption, and so on (not sure how the Pope would respond on population demographics!).  These changes mostly are not happening because these are unpleasant changes, even for those that can afford to change.  But if religion is good for anything, it is in making people sacrifice in the present for rewards in the future.  This is what makes this announcement so incredibly important.
  4. Clearly the timing is also important – just before the next round climate talks to take place in Paris this fall.  It will be interesting to see if this moves the needle at all.  After 20 UN annual climate change conferences (we’re about to have COP 21) which have made virtually no difference, it will be curious to see if this provides any momentum or will to change.  I’m an optimist at heart, but my head tells me that this is a stretch.